Christopher Sommer, the founder of GymnasticBodies, spent 20 years coaching the U.S. national gymnastics team, and he recommends some different exercises that are sure to make you realize the muscles you didn’t even know you had. UTM students can prepare themselves more effectively for heavy weights by strengthening and increasing flexibility in their stabilizer muscles or lesser known muscles.
Think of this as a controlled, slowly rounded straight-legged deadlift, but with light weights. It can kick-start stubborn thoracic, or mid-back, mobility while teaching you to use your hamstrings. Begin by standing up straight, legs locked, holding a bar waist-high with your arms shoulder-width apart. With your chin tucked tightly against your chest, slowly bend over, one vertebra at a time from the neck down. Keep your arms straight and the bar close to your legs. Lower until you can’t stretch any farther. As you become more flexible, stand on a box, with the goal of reaching your wrists below your toes. Slowly stand back up again, one vertebra at a time, keeping your chin tucked—it should be the last thing to come up. Aim for 10 reps.
These are outstanding for shoulder and pec mobility. Perform them at the end of a workout, when your shoulders are warmed up. Start by holding a lightweight bar waist-high with an overhand grip and your arms double shoulder width apart. Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise the bar above your head and then back behind you, ending with the bar against the back of your legs. Don’t arch your lower back. Bring the bar back up and around. Repeat five to 10 times.
This is an excellent finishing move for the mid-traps (critical for handstands and just about everything in gymnastics) and external rotator muscles in the shoulders. It also irritates the shoulders less than most other variations I’ve tried. Visualize it as popping up like Dracula in a coffin, then hitting a double biceps pose. The catch: your hands are holding rings the entire time. Set up a pair of rings to hang about a foot above your head when you’re sitting on the floor. While sitting on the floor, grab the rings, lay back, and lift your hips off the ground, keeping your heels dug in. Focus on making your body (head to heels) straight. Sit up until your head is between the rings. The bend at your waist and elbows should be about 90 degrees. Slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat five times.